Thursday, June 23, 2011

Frustration and release ( in tutorial form...)

This postal strike we're having here in Canada has made me feel cut off at the knees:  can't go forward, can't ship to people who've purchased from my shop and who are waiting patiently (they can all expect an extra something when they do get their orders..), can't get supplies.  Obviously, for large companies this is not a problem, except as an extra temporary expense for shipping, but 17 -23$ to ship small items (under 12$) is just not realistic for me or my customers.  The back to work legislation was introduced into the House of Commons on Monday, but may not make it through to law before the summer recess starts tomorrow!  Honestly, I would expect my elected members to stay and finish the job before they leave for their ridings for the summer, if that is the course to which our new majority Conservative government is committed!  My shop is now closed until this is resolved and I will be putting my efforts into new work and finishing up a heap of half-done stuff.  Trying very hard not to let this sap my forward momentum.

In a effort to distract myself, I have thought up a little tutorial to (hopefully) amuse you.  If you have read any of my posts, you will know that I have an obsession with hollow beads.  I am putting together a tutorial for purchase to demonstrate my way of making hollow beads, but another quick and simple way occurred to me for making hollow beads while I recently made some of my new 'Strata' beads.  I'm sure this has been done a million times elsewhere, but here is my take on it.

Before I start - another reason to make these beads hollow is that it is then easier to manipulate them into shapes a little different from the cutter shapes.  I highly recommend making your own cutters, see tutorial here by Daniel Torres (thanks, Daniel):
Cutter tutorial

Start with well conditioned clay - this is that dreaded of all white clay, the cheap original Sculpey in a box.  I often use it for prototypes, because if I can make something in that clay, I can make it in any of the better clays (and it will be stronger..).  Pick  two cutters that have the same profile, but one smaller than the other.  I chose Kemper circles but it could be any shape.

Roll clay into thin sheets (or your preference for thickness) .  Cut the larger circles - I find cutting on a dedicated silicone baking mat gives much cleaner cuts.
Start stacking up the circles till you have almost the thickness you want.  DO NOT stack evenly, you want the strata to be visible and interesting.

Compress your layers, but do not fiddle with the strata or smooth them in any way.

Line up the smaller cutter on the stack and take some care to try to get an even wall thickness.  Cut through all layers and remove the plug.  This will make your bead amazingly lightweight, especially if the smaller cutter is just a bit smaller.

You can see that the outside layers are still there in the above picture.

Next choose your top and bottom.  For this demo, I am cutting out of a piece of new crackle sheet that I made today.  It has a bit of cornstarch on it, so it looks a little dim...

Cut top piece and attach to a blank circle so that your top (and bottom ) are double thickness.  A single sheet is too flimsy to function well as a top.   Attach and compress slightly and integrate the top into the layers.

Flip over.

Attach the bottom and integrate. Add points of texture interest on the layers if you like - tweak the whole thing, make it a little off round if you like.  Push back an errant layer that looks like it got out of control - just look and see if it is how you like it!  Make a hole and inflate slightly if you'd like your piece a little domed.

Make holes and bake.

Then comes the painting.  I'm not going to go into detail because I'm doing a tutorial on surface finishes as well, but I'll briefly show another bead being finished.

This group of photos shows the raw ugly bead (square with layers), then the raw ugly bead being fearlessly covered with black paint, then navy paint, then the gradual removal of those layers and slight addtions of other colours to enhance the design.  Finally, it is waxed and polished.  A large round bead that I made earlier is beside it.

Here are the two cutters I made and used to make the big bead in the picture.

I don't have any more time to post more today, but will come back on Monday to show the crackle topped bead finished and a textured surface variant which is altered after assembly.

The possibilites for using cutters are endless so I hope this mini-tutorial gets you interested.  If you are not interested in making your own, Clay Factory Inc. has a great deal on the entire set of Kemper cutters.

See you Monday and hope the postal strike is resolved!  Wow, that was fun, must do it more often - the tutorial, I mean, not the rant!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The really big hollow bead...

 What's on the table this week?

Another week and more tweeking to be done.  It's endless, but fun.  I've been struggling with the writing of a tutorial and I'm getting near the end - fortunately, I have a couple of wonderful people who have offered to try it out and see if my instructions are as clear as I think they are - but I suspect that after they try it there will be some revisions to be done.  It isn't nearly as easy as you might think to tell someone how to make something....

It has been a tremendous help to read other people`s tutorials to see how they lay out the material and illustrate it.  Thanks particularly to Shannon of missficklemedia and Lynda from scDiva,  both of whom write great tutorials.  Check out their stores on Etsy if you are interested in some new techniques!

The first basic tutorial is one I've had in my mind for a while, namely, how to make hollow forms without armatures or core material.  For myself, I've found that working this way has given me tremendous freedom to explore form in a way that is not possible when you commit yourself to a mold or a core to build over.  Beads can evolve and change while you work on them.  Later, I plan to do another tutorial to explain how to decorate the hollow form in various ways while it is being made, so that the decoration can change with the piece, rather than being imposed on it after curing. 

I 'm so hoping that people will be interested in this tutorial - I have plans to sell it in a couple of places, but more on that later.  While tweeking the content, I made this bead to see if I could push the limits a little!  Apparently I can make beads this large..( and larger if necessary, but is it necessary?).This could easily have changed  into a large hollow lentil at the last minute (a nice feature of this technique) but I wanted to finish a really large round bead.  When I went to pick up my husband at the arirport today, I saw 2 or 3 necklaces walking around (on women, naturally) with round beads this large or larger.   Maybe someone would use it...heck, maybe I`ll use it!

Here are a few more shots of the big bead, I've even included a shot with the ubiquitous penny (so annoying, I know...) so you can see the scale more readily.  It measures 1 and 1/2 inches in diameter.  Bigger is possible if you remember that as you increase the surface area,  the amount of clay needed  increases exponentially.

So what have you been up to?  And more importantly, would you put this big sucker round your neck?